On 19 and 20 June 2015, Malthouse will be running the now annual Darkest Days Festival – a celebration of dark, inky, shady, Stygian, slim shady and sinister beers which will continue until they all run out. There will be at least 23 sooty libations available – alert and surprisingly perky readers will have noticed this number has already increased since last week’s sneak peek at the event. More entries may follow. Brewers be random and last minute, y’all.

To paraphrase [5] the words of beloved political leader and former Labour Cabinet Minister Richard Prebble, “I’ve been thinking… about dark beers.” Personally, I’ve been working on a piece about Stouts which will appear in the next blockbusting issue of New Zealand Liquor News. My research including interviewing three Kiwi brewers about stouts specifically but many of their comment apply to dark beers in general.

As a professional beer writer I obviously cannot reproduce the contents of that soon to be barn burning article here but I can offer the “Director’s Cut” – cool things I wanted to include in the original but simply ran out of space for. Hopefully, this will be great in the way that the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner is, and the Director’s Cut of Dances with Wolves (running time: 2 days, 18 hours, 14 minutes and still going) is not. 

Huggable brewer Steve Nally from Invercargill Brewery admitted that when it came to stouts he was “a big fan when I was younger of Murphy’s.” I always thought the only person in New Zealand who still liked DB Vita Stout worked in the Prime Minister’s office but, like Darth Vader, I was wrong because “there is another.” Nally says “the old DB Vita-Stout was a good stout – as a mainstream style it was pretty cool.”

I asked three brewers if stout and (by default for the purposes of this blog) dark beer was simply a winter drink. (Father) Chris O’Leary from Emerson’s Brewing Company agreed it was a fine cold weather drink (“smooth, coffee, chocolate, rich white head, sit back, feet up in front of the fire”) but said it was more than that.

“We are all there for the malt and hops are in the background. If you are looking for intensity of flavour, why wouldn’t you? It depends on the occasion and the food but in the right environment I will be there with bells on. With steak, chocolate, blue cheese these beers are all beautiful any time of year.”

Dr Ralph Bungard, the thinking woman’s brewing crumpet, [6] is adamant that dark beers, including stouts and porters, can be a beautiful summer drink when chilled and refreshing. That is despite how it looks black in the glass. Consumers need to move beyond what they see because it is “hard to beat one of those big stouts on a cold, rainy Christchurch night.”

Invercargill Brewery head bear Steve Nally probably laughs openly at the thought of a “cold, rainy Christchurch night” because he lives in Invercargill and sleeps most nights in the belly of a Tauntaun until his minions can get the shelter up. He told me that dark beers like stouts “were a blue collar all-day every-day beer. I have no idea why people would think that it was only a winter beer.” He says dark beer goes well on a hot sunny day on the deck, in puddings, with puddings and even with bacon and eggs.

Here is a preview of some of the beers that will be available on the Malthouse Darkest Day… err… Days:

Brewaucracy Night Shift (8.9%) is from Hamilton but do not hold that against it. The brewers admit it is “something of a moving target… an occasional release which will evolve with time and our moods.” This year’s vintage was a “happy accident, as our friend Graeme Mahy from (then) 666 Brewing was leaving the little brewery that could at Shunters Yard to head back to his new-old role as brewery team leader at Murrays Brewing in Australia. Graeme had just acquired some barrels as a birthday present, and had put a couple of batches of beer in them.” 

“One, an imperial stout, the other a kettle-soured blonde ale. He couldn’t keep his babies when he left, so we purchased the barrels and their contents and decided to learn the blender’s art! After nine months in four barrels, Greig [Magill – generally agreed to be a noted Labour voter] spent a pleasurable morning tasting, blending, and refining until he was happy with the result. 2015’s Night Shift is a dark, tart, feast for the senses. Notes of burnt cocoa and toasted raisin bread up front slowly give way to a tart and quenching finish. The lightness of body is deceptive, so watch it. This 8.9% beastie will sneak up on you!” [7]

There will also be Coopers Extra Stout 2013 (6.3%) with notes of coffee, nuts, sherry, caramel, raisins and liquorice. One RateBeer enthusiast said this beer displayed the “first impression is of the classic 1970’s desert – Black Forest Gateaux.” Grrrrrrr, baby. Very Grrrrrrr…

I am an unabashed fan of Epic Brewing Company [8] but that does not stop me from saying their Epic Coffee & Fig 2014 Stout (8%) is nonsense on stilts. The good burghers at RateBeer say I am more wrong than Come Dine with Me New Zealand by giving the beer an eye-watering rating of 97. Reviewers have detected notes of Turkish figs, dark Ethiopian coffee, chocolate, ash, plums and, for some reason, coconut. 

Malthouse hosted the launch of Renaissance Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (4.9%) on 28 May 2015. This much-anticipated beer has been released annually since 2009. In addition to the use of oatmeal to fill out the already smooth mouthfeel, Craftsman uses cocoa nibs both in the boil and fermentor, ensuring rich chocolate and coffee notes. Previous vintages (each is subtly different) have been described as black with a tan head, notes of medium-roasted coffee, dark chocolate, burnt toast, caramel, vanilla and stonefruit. The silky mouthfeel is always a highlight. There is only one way to check out this year’s vintage – try it. 

Next time, we drink to Shane Cowlishaw who took last week’s Auckland versus Wellington Malthouse Blog in the spirit it was intended. He is a good sport and a fine journalist. Others seemed to take offence on his behalf which is becoming a worrying development in 2015 New Zealand. It also helped the situation that Shane was generally right.

Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
The Shout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


[1] The official state motto of Tasmania is “The Lower Hutt of Australia.”
[2] This is a surprisingly nuanced political observation from a lifelong member of the National Party who may or may not own a small plastic piggy bank cast in the splendid visage of Sir Robert…
[3] Apart from Nurse Beanie. She rocked.
[4] I’m in favour of two of the last three things but I will never reveal which two.
[5] “Paraphrase” is code for “mutilate”.
[6] Presuming they like their brewing crumpet “piping hot”.
[7] This is clearly hyperbole as there are no documented examples of people from Hamilton sneaking up on others while harbouring potentially ill intentions.
[8] Rumours that I have an Imp tattoo somewhere south of the border cannot be proved at this point in time.

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